After the funeral of a dear and impactful friend, Dr. Michael Johnson, Trevecca’s engagement officer for church partnerships and aide to the president for special projects, wanted to make the world a better place. He decided one way to do that could be through a podcast. From that, Michael in the Middle was born.
“I wanted to spread generosity and encouragement as ideas for people to gravitate toward,” Johnson said. “I started attending Trevecca in 1978 and have worked here for 33 years, so I had a broad cross-section of friendships and people I could involve as guests on the show.”
The podcast launched in August 2022, and Johnson now has 25 episodes of encouraging content and interviews with friends and family. He works with Rob Walls, another Trevecca graduate, through Varnish Media for production and marketing.
The podcast now averages 300 verifiable engagements per episode. Much of its attraction stems from the focus on helping people better their human interaction. The name mirrors that idea, referencing the alliteration of the early 2000’s sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle, and painting a picture of the way Johnson relates to others.
“I have found myself in the middle of a lot of different people in relationships and situations,” Johnson said. “I am not trying to be Switzerland and never take a stand on anything. I have strong convictions, but I try to never let those get in the way of having a conversation with somebody.”
When he has guests on the show, he likes to hear about what they’re in the middle of. His goal is for listeners to consider a variety of subjects in a relaxed, informal and entertaining way.
“I ask guests who they are and what their story is,” Johnson said. “The power of story is so relatable. I am trying to focus on their life, knowing that there will be points and ideas that resonate with listeners.”
Recent guests include Shonda Pierce, one of the top selling female comedians of all time; Joe Dubin, a former sports broadcaster for Channel 4; and Harold Ivan Smith, a Trevecca graduate and grief counselor. An early episode also featured his three sons.
“My youngest son is on Saturday Night Live, so it was fun to watch him, he’s an entertainer,” Johnson said. “It was great the way their three personalities came across because my older two are very successful in their work and have a lot to contribute as well.”
Ultimately, optimism is key to every show, and he is inspired by a quote from a recent TV drama that says, “The world will beat you up enough on its own. Stop beating yourself up.”
“That is a foundational premise for the podcast,” Johnson said. “I don't have to chime in with everyone else who is railing away on all the things that are wrong with the world. What I can bring instead is encouragement.”
His faith is also integral to his perspective, giving him hope for the future that he is eager to share with his listeners.
“I am not blind to the injustice in the world. But there is good going on because God is still at work,” Johnson said. “Even if it's not overtly spiritual in terms of the discussion of Christian principles, I am trusting that the spirit of God will flow through the conversations.”
Johnson has never forgotten the inspiration of his late friend and his mission to bring as much transformation to his corner of the world as possible.
“I know I can’t change the world but maybe I can change the world for somebody,” Johnson said. “And if I change the world for enough people, maybe the world will be changed in the process.”
Michael in the Middle can be found wherever you listen to podcasts.